Tuesday, 16 December 2014

47 Ronin (2013)

UK Release Date: December 26th 2013

A band of samurai set out to avenge the death and dishonor of their master at the hands of a ruthless shogun.

Director: Carl Rinsch

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Ko Shibasaki, Min Tanaka, Jin Akanishi, Rinko Kikuchi 

47 Ronin, with a Boxing Day release, bombed at the box office. It took only half of what it cost to make it. Too much money was spent on a film that targets a small audience. 

Here in lies another telling of the forty seven Ronin from 18th century Japan. They are the leaderless samurai, seeking vengeance on those who've killed their leader. Every story told since the event has been twisted. It's more important how the story is told than the true account, but the foundation and principal is still at the heart of every version. This remains so with this 2013 release. 

But not all is well. Keanu Reeves makes a comeback after a few low-key films since 2008's The Day the Earth Stood Still, and what a strange choice to make his return. First and foremost his character, Kai, is completely made up. He's a 'half-breed' as one of the Ronin points out, taken under the wing of Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) after supposedly being brought up by demons. This is what we're told, but unfortunately we don't get to see it. Years later the older and still very reserved Kai is scorned by others. His love for the Lord's daughter, Mika (Ko Shibasaki) only makes matter worse. 'I would rather have been killed by that beast than saved by a half-breed' declares Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the son of Asano as the opening scene depicts a monster wreaking havoc near the city in which they live in. 

The tale, although true to its core, has morphed into a gigantic epic fantasy. A year after the death of Lord Asano, the captured Oishi escapes and tracks down the hidden Kai. They muster their masterless samurai, and encounter many strange animals and beings before their journey's end, from witches and snakes to Voldemort lookalikes and tattooed freaks. There's plenty of entertainment to extract from 47R, like its set-pieces. The fighting and battles are expertly choreographed. Keanu and co are professional fighters who put their heart and soul into their fighting.

The same can't be said for everything else in between. The editing from scene to scene is a little clunky, like a piece is missing from a puzzle, and the Japanese actors that we're all very familiar with (Hiroyuki Sanada from The Wolverine, Tadanobu Asano from Thor/Thor: The Dark World, Rinko Kikuchi from Pacific Rim) struggle with some of the dialogue. It's as if the translation from Japanese to English hasn't quite smoothed out. On the plus side you wouldn't notice it from their performances. It's always an odd one watching an English speaking film when the events contained were in Japanese. Is it trying to make us believe that they spoke a different language? 

Verdict: 47 Ronin is highly entertaining to watch. It's not likely to make your brain ache, but you can't help feeling Keanu Reeves is a bit out of place. 


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